by Col William J. Shirey, USAF (Ret.)
Character is the most important factor in Christian leadership.
A leader may be competent and committed, but without character, a leader’s motives will always be questioned. J.C. Maxwell, in his book Leadership 101 states, “Character makes trust possible. And trust makes leadership possible” (p. 47).
Similarly, J. Collins in his best-selling book Good to Great, points out one unexpected finding regarding leadership, “Whether someone is the ‘right person’ has more to do with character traits and innate capabilities than with specific knowledge, background, or skills” (p. 64).
All leaders have strengths and weaknesses. However, a leader can overcome these weaknesses if he or she possesses strong character. The reverse is not usually true. Integrity is the foundation of our character; those around us must see it in both our personal and professional walk.
In his book Taking Charge, author P.M. Smith tells the story of Babe Didrikson-Zaharias, a professional golfer who, during the middle of a golf tournament, noticed that she had accidentally played the wrong ball. No one else was aware of the mistake. When the round was over, in accordance with the rules, she penalized herself two strokes.
When asked why she did it, she replied, “Because I would have known.” It is this type of personal integrity that is needed in leadership. Integrity is characterized by doing the right thing when no one is looking. Leviticus 19:11 commands, “Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.”
When we fall short of God’s standard of integrity, we must acknowledge the shortcoming and correct it as best we can. We should not hesitate to ask for forgiveness. Trust is built by demonstrating character that is above reproach. To influence others, a leader must have an unwavering commitment to integrity as the foundation for character, regardless of circumstances.
William J. (Joe) Shirey, (Colonel, USAF, retired), was commissioned from the Air Force Academy in 1976. He was an F-16 Squadron Commander and served in various staff assignments in NATO, the Pentagon and Air Combat Command. He retired in 2001. He and his wife, Johanna, have four daughters: Sarah, Katie, Rebecca, Emily. They have been actively involved in OCF and other military ministries since entering the service.
This article originally appeared in COMMAND magazine, or an OCF Ministry Report.